With the goal of providing more opportunities, more protections, more respect and inclusion for people of all ages with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in 1987. As a result, more people are now living and thriving in their communities rather than institutions.
However, with over 100 different diagnoses falling under the umbrella of I/DD, the scope is broad and the challenges are many – from early intervention and early childhood education to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and the transition from school to adult life - what happens after high school?
Disability Awareness Month has been celebrated every March for nearly a quarter of a century in our state. Led by the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities, which estimates that adults and children with disabilities represent slightly more than 19 percent of Indiana’s population, the goal of Disability Awareness Month is to increase awareness and promote independence, integration and inclusion of all people with disabilities.
When it comes to adult services and employment, organizations like The Arc Northwest Indiana have demonstrated how programs that provide career planning, job coaching and supported employment thrive as part of a full spectrum of services.
“Many individuals who knowingly have some type of disability seek assistance when it comes to looking for, obtaining and maintaining employment,” The Arc Northwest Indiana Placement Support Services Director Margo Surprise said. “Our goal is to link people with employment providers. We do the footwork to help them find and maintain a job.”
Showing how people with I/DD can be employed in the community alongside people without disabilities and earn competitive wages, The Arc Northwest Indiana provides the resources necessary to make informed choices about work and careers.
“We offer the support needed to find and keep jobs,” Surprise added. “The information and training we provide includes assessing skills and interests, working with employers, matching jobs to skill sets and employer needs, providing individualized and ongoing job supports, designing reasonable job accommodations, integrating people into the workforce, building social skills necessary in the workplace as well as any other necessary services such as transportation to and from work.”
As a result, productive, self-directed people with I/DD can reach their potential and live secure, fulfilling lives.
“I like my job. It’s a nice routine, and they keep me busy,” Darla Sloan, who is one of 18 people from The Arc of Northwest Indiana employed by Strack & Van Til, said. “My bosses are great and I get along with my co-workers pretty well. All my family and friends shop here, so I’m totally lucky. It’s nice to see them when I am at work.”
Sloan, who graduated high school in 1996, first started going to The Arc Northwest Indiana to learn about job opportunities in 2001. After working with a job developer, she applied for the position of utility clerk at Strack & Van Til’s in Munster and was hired in 2002. She was recently presented with a wrist watch from the company in recognition of her great service and longtime employment, and she was also honored at the annual awards breakfast of the Hammond Mayor’s Commission on Disabilities earlier this month.
Erich Freiwald, who lives independently with three other adult roommates with I/DD, started his first job last fall at the age of 49.
“I will be 50 in August, and it feels good to have a job,” he said. “When I got that first paycheck, it made feel real good. The Arc helped me get the job at Texas Corral. It’s near my house and someone picks me up for my shifts on Saturday and Sunday. They are all really nice there and say I’m doing a good job as the spoon, knife, fork and napkin person.”
Currently in the process of completing the spring semester of classes in his second year at Ivy Tech working toward an Associates Degree in Graphic Design, Zachery Molizon sought assistance from The Arc of Northwest Indiana when he graduated high school in 2011.
“The transition from high school to college was a big change for me, and I worked with a job developer who was very kind and helped me a lot,” he said. “It was hard to find a job in this economy and the process was long. But, now I have a nice starter job for someone who’s just getting started in the workforce.”
A cart attendant at Sam’s Club in Merrillville, Molizon especially enjoys interacting with the customers.
“I like to assist the customers,” he said. “They are very kind and always have a good story to share. I also like that I am slowly learning about the workforce and have good co-workers and good bosses. The Arc has been a big help to me. I liked that I had a job coach who was very kind and helped explain things in the beginning.”
While Zachary does not require Follow-Along services, Darla and Erich receive ongoing support at their jobs. Even so, The Arc Northwest Indiana is always there to assist him, since everybody can use a little support from time to time.
“It’s their job, and they need to understand what’s expected over time,” Maria Shane, one of the seven Following Coaches who each handles up to 17 clients at The Arc Northwest Indiana, explained. “Sometimes you are like a fly on the wall, just observing, seeing what’s going on behind the scenes. In other situations, as tasks or job responsibilities change for example, you are there to help make the new routine as smooth as possible, setting goals at meetings, monitoring results and doing whatever needs to be done to keep achieving them. It really opens your eyes to new horizons, and I have to say it is very rewarding. I look forward to coming to work every day.”
Learn more about Job Placement and Supported Employment Follow Along Services, as well as Respite Care, Supported Living, Residential Services, Pre-vocational Training, Group Habilitation, Social Integration Programming, Volunteer Services, Behavior Management, Self Advocates, Family Support, Community Connections, Recreation, Medicaid Waivers, Master Trusts, and Northwest Indiana Adult Guardianship Services at The Arc Northwest Indiana an open house this
Wednesday, March 27, from 1:30pm to 3:30pm at 9600 Kennedy Avenue in Highland.
For More Info:
The Arc Northwest Indiana
2650 W 35th Avenue | Gary, IN